Psalm 14 informs us that there were two groups in Israel: the “workers of iniquity” and “the generation of the righteous” (vv. 4–5). The former group forsook the law, but the latter group was a believing remnant that kept faith alive in the nation of Israel (Mal. 3:16–18). Today, the church is that “righteous generation,” citizens of that heavenly Zion (Heb. 12:19–25), that ought to make a difference in this world (Phil. 2:12–16). Psalms 10 and 12 focus on those who are not acceptable to the Lord while Psalm 15 describes those who are acceptable and are invited to dwell in His tabernacle. David may have written this psalm after his second—and successful—attempt to bring the ark of the covenant to Mt. Zion (2 Sam. 6) where it was housed in a tent.
The rabbis taught that there were 613 commandments for the Jewish people to obey if they wanted to be righteous, but this psalm brings that number down to eleven. Isaiah 33:15–16 gives six requirements, and Micah 6:8 lists three. Habakkuk 2:4 names but one—faith—for faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to have your sins forgiven and be welcomed into the Lord’s presence (John 14:6; Rom. 1:7; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). The psalm says nothing about offering sacrifices, for spiritual Israelites knew that it was their personal faith that brought them salvation (Mark 12:28–34). It’s important to note that Psalm 15 is not a prescription for being saved but a description of how saved people ought to live if they want to please God and fellowship with Him. The list contains both positive and negative qualities, and these qualities must be present in all of life at all times. Believers who would fellowship intimately with God must follow David’s example and meet three personal requirements.
Seeking God’s Presence (v. 1)
After his men captured Mt. Zion, David made it the site of his residence and of the sanctuary of God, and Jerusalem became “the city of David” (2 Sam. 5:1–16). The tabernacle, the throne, and the “holy hill” belonged together (see 24:3–6; 2:6; 3:4; 43:3). To the believer today, Mt. Zion speaks of the heavenly city where God’s people will dwell forever (Heb. 12:19–25). David asked this question because he loved the house of the Lord (26:8; 27:3–5; 65:4) and desired in his heart to know God better and fellowship with Him in a deeper way. The priests could come and go in the house of the Lord, but David, though he was king, had to keep his distance. “Abide” means “to sojourn as a stranger,” while “dwell” suggests a permanent residential status, but here the verbs are probably synonymous. Knowing about eastern hospitality, David wanted to enjoy the benefits of being a resident in God’s house—enjoying God’s fellowship, God’s protection, and God’s provision. The word “dwell” in the Hebrew is shakan and gives us the word shekineh, referring to the presence (dwelling) of God’s glory in the sanctuary (Ex. 25:8; see also 29:46; 1 Chron. 22:19; Pss. 20:2; 78:69; 150:1). David’s great desire was to be with God in heaven and dwell in His house forever (23:6; 61:4), for God is our eternal home (90:1). Believers today can enjoy intimate fellowship with God through Jesus Christ (John 14:19–31; Heb. 10:19–25).
Obeying God’s precepts (vv. 2–5a)
Three basic areas of life are named in verse 2—blameless character, righteous conduct, and truthful conversation—and then these are applied specifically and practically in verses 3–5a. If we are right in these basic virtues, we will “work them out” in every area of life and be obedient to the Lord. Walk, work, and speak are present participles, indicating that the dedicated believer is constantly obeying the Lord and seeking to please Him.
Integrity—blameless character (vv. 2a, 4a, 4b). What we are largely determines what we do and say, so the first emphasis is on godly character. (See Isa. 33:14–16; 58:1–12; Jer. 7:1–7; Ezek. 18:5–9; Hos. 6:6; Mic. 6:6–8; Matt. 5:1–16.) “Blameless” doesn’t mean “sinless,” for nobody on earth is sinless. Blameless has to do with soundness of character, integrity, complete loyalty to God. Noah was blameless (Gen. 6:9), and the Lord admonished Abraham to be blameless (Gen. 17:1), that is, devoted wholly to the Lord. (See 18:13, 23–25; 101:2, 6; Deut. 18:9–13; Luke 16:13.) People with integrity will honor others who have integrity and who fear the Lord (15:4; 119:63). They will not be deceived by the flatterers (12:2–3) or enticed by the sinful (1:1). When godly people endorse the words and deeds of the ungodly, there is confusion in the church. “Like a muddied fountain and a polluted spring is a righteous man … who compromises his integrity before the wicked” (Prov. 25:26, AMP).
Honesty—righteous conduct (vv. 2b, 5a, 5b). People who “work righteousness” are honest in their own dealings and concerned that justice be done in the land. In the ancient Jewish monarchy, there wasn’t much the average citizen could do about crooked judges or extortion (Eccl. 3:16–17; 4:1–3), but in today’s democracies, each qualified citizen at least has a vote. Someone defined “politics” as “the conduct of public affairs for private advantage,” and too often that is true. In verse 5, David applied the principle of honesty to two areas: asking for exorbitant interest and accepting bribes. Both were “sins in good standing” in the days of the divided kingdom, and the prophets preached against both sins (Isa. 1:23; 5:23; 10:2; Ezek. 22:12; Amos 5:11–12). The Jews were not permitted to charge other Jews interest (Ex. 22:25; 23:7–8; Lev. 25:35–38; Deut. 23:20), and judges were warned not to accept bribes (Ex. 23:8; Deut. 10:17–18; 27:25; 2 Chron. 19:5–7). There can be no justice in a society where money tells the court what is right or wrong.
Sincerity—truthful conversation (vv. 2c, 3–4c). Truth is the cement that holds society together. If people can get away with lies, then every promise, agreement, oath, pledge, and contract is immediately destroyed. The false witness turns a trial into a travesty and causes the innocent to suffer. But we must speak truth in love (Eph. 4:15) and use truth as a tool to build relationships as well as a weapon to fight deception. When truth is in the heart, then the lips will not speak lies, spread gossip (Lev. 19:16), or attack the innocent. People with truthful hearts will keep their vows and promises (Deut. 23:22–24; Eccl. 5:1–5). People of integrity don’t have to use oaths to strengthen their words. A simple yes or no carries all the weight that’s needed (Matt. 5:33–37). More trouble is caused in families, neighborhoods, offices, and churches by gossip and lies and the people who keep them in circulation than by any other means. The Lord wants truth in our innermost being (51:6), and He wants us to love the truth and protect it.
The Lord is blameless in what He is (1 John 1:6), righteous in what He does (Ezra 9:15), and truthful in what He says (1 Sam. 15:29), and He wants His guests to have the same characteristics.
Trusting God’s Promise (v. 5c)
“He who does these things will never be shaken” (NASB). This means that the godly described in this psalm have security and stability in life and don’t have to be afraid of earthquakes or eviction notices. “Moved” comes from a Hebrew word that refers to a violent shaking (46:3–4; 82:5; 93:1; 96:10; Isa. 24:18–20). God’s promise to the godly is that they are firmly grounded on His covenant promises and need not fear. “He who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17, NKJV). In these last days, God is shaking things so that the true will remain and the false will be exposed (Heb. 12:18–29). Jesus closed the Sermon on the Mount with a parable about two builders (Matt. 5:24–27) whose structures (lives) were tested by the judgment storm, and only one stood strong. It was the life built by the person who did the will of God. The godly life that our Lord discussed in the Sermon on the Mount parallels the characteristics of the godly person described in Psalm 15, 12 and in both places, the promise is given: “You shall never be moved.”